Switching off and tune into God

My friend Jon Butler blogged a few months ago about escaping from technology to spend time with God here: http://jonbutler.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/time-to-hear-god-speak-as-ifast/  I think this is a great idea.

Often, for me; tasks at work may overflow into an evening or weekend as I am trying to research a particular software for projects I am doing at the moment, or using social media, or looking at comedy, news and other things the internet has to offer.

This often means some stuff get put aside by all the things the digital age has to offer.

I have been thinking, something I think helps with this, is a some sort of zone or isolated spot away from everyday routine.

Back in Portsmouth there’s a cemetery near my parents thats quiet for walking through, but also Old Portsmouth and its seafront makes a good place to pray and walk around.

This a really idyllic place to spend quiet time, this is Ashurst in the New Forest, its a small town on a main road, not much more than a few shops, couple of takeaways, a pub close and a hospital I used to work at, down this little lane on the left…

This is Ashurst’s camp site, a place I spent time camping as a teenager, during the winter its shut, and its used as a drive in Christmas tree store about this (beginning of November) time of the year, and certainly also it seems when Google took these pictures as these forest ranger chaps are busy (click to get a better view)  you just drive in the entrance, pick a tree and stuff it in your car. 🙂

The truly best part of this, is the woods you can walk around and places to pray in solitude during my lunch break back in the job I was doing in 2008.

Lately despite being last couple of years in Jerusalem, I find myself just indoors on Saturdays just wanting to relax, although its Shabbat (Saturday is day of rest for Jewish culture) and until a month ago, it gets fiercely hot during midday in a climate like this, I really need to get out and find places of quiet to contemplate and seek God I think…

This my balcony on my flat.  I really like it, I think from now on this is the perfect place to sit with some coffee and pray before leaving the house in the morning.  Actually my old room mate was a smoker so this part of his routine was being out here.

Would be interested from anyone on suggestions on how you cope with quiet places to spend time with the Lord…

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Back to Ramon Crater, camping in the Desert

Camping! I went and spent a weekend with some friends, two from the Netherlands, one South African and one Hispanic Jew who has been Israel for some years now.

Its funny in an age where we try to make our lives more complicated with technology and creature comforts we still want to escape to basics of living under a piece of canvas with just the bare minimum to enjoy being out in the open air.

The Dutch seem to be the most hardcore campers in Europe, and where as I have had a fair bit of experience in camping up in Yorkshire and the New Forest as a child, my friends from this part of Europe seem to be very savvy as using gas cookers and putting up tents.   In addition to that my friend from South Africa was brought in a farm so is very adept at outdoors living also.

I have been to this site before back in about August 2009.    This is inside the Ramon Crater in the middle of the Negev Desert.

Some people opt for a more sophisticated camping experience, needing proper showers.   We opted for a site just rocks and bushes to use the bog.

This site we passed on the way home, just being a bit cheeky using the toilets that were by the road.

Here you can park your tent on the ground or inside the bedouin style huts, which look nicely made.   There is a kids playground in the middle which stands out as a bit odd!

This picture I took out of the window of the car is not that great, but it was a small clip of a large shanty town style village, these are Druze, traveling Arab people who live Bedouin style today often by the side of busy roads.  They may have cars or camels or donkeys and often grow their own groups in their communities.

Camping on the beach

I went camping with our young adults group at church, on the coast at Rishon LeZion which is south of Tel Aviv.


Sunflower Man! Camping on the beach, my friend here thinks he is a Middle East superhero from this big orange towel.

Nearby there were some outside showers which are there to wash sand and salt off you, these were being used by some divers in frogman outfits to wash off their prize catches.

The only thing is they proceeded to gut the fish also here, not so pleasant for other people at the beach to have to walk in fishy guts, yuck.

Crabs, along with lobsters are not kosher, therefore very few Jewish people even completely non-religious eat any type of shellfish.   I am wondering if there are Arab owned fish restaurants that cater for tourists that want all type of sea food.

I slept on the beach without a tent, this was great as the temperature was just right once in a sleeping bag borrowed from another Bridges for Peace staff member, it was super comfy so I slept really well, and there was time for worship, football and card games before it started to get dark.

The next day after a bit of a lay in and getting some lunch – off to a place called Midras back towards Jerusalem for caving!  This was kind of scary, I have done this before, but this seems extra difficult, these rabbit hole sized gaps are small meaning pushing yourself on your stomach had to be done, as well as alternating between feet first or head first and sometimes going around tight right-angles, with people behind you.  My fear was people stopping in front of you meaning you cannot head any direction.  Every so many metres of distance was a small cave that maybe 6 people could gather in.

Here this cave was interesting, it reminded me of the Sarlacc, the creature embedded in the ground with teeth from Star Wars Return of the Jedi, however after climbing down, its actually a Columbarium Cave which means dovecote in Greek.  Doves were raised for food or for ritual purposes and was popular during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Our friend Stephenson who is originally from the Caribbean was quite nifty at climbing these little alcoves to get on a platform at the top.

This pyramid shamed structure made of dressed stone is the only one of its kind in Israel, the top three rows are missing.  Its likely it was erected as a shrine to those buried in the caves nearby.   This is known in Hebrew as a Nefesh. (soul)

This tomb has a sliding stone to close it shut, just like the tomb of Jesus and other ancient tombs built for wealthy people I have seen in Jerusalem.
It was in use at the end of the first century until the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE)   Sadly it was vandalised 15 years ago.

There is a lot of tombs and holes around the place, some not so obvious as hidden by bushes.

This was a really good weekend with some exploring and fellowship with folks I know well and new people too.

Galilee road trip part 3 : Miracles of Jesus on location

Parts 1 2 3 – more soon…

Back to continue the camping trip I did in the Galilee in May.  The towns surrounding this lake are where Jesus spent most of his ministry.

With the aid of a few supplies we took on our expedition, I decided to do some photos to recreate some of the miracles the Lord did on this very place.

Water into Wine.   As mentioned in John 2 : 9.  Jesus did this at a wedding in Cana which is a town some distance away from the west side of the sea, although I am the east side.

The sea and the coast can look quite foggy at times. The places where we camped has this amazing view, this wall is great to sit on and view until the sun goes down.

Five loaves and two fishes.  I have used some tinned pilchards, as I think using fresh fish in a car with 5 people and loaded with other stuff on a hot day would not be very a popular.

The scriptures here mention this was done by Jesus in a place called Gennesaret on the north west of the sea.  Check Matthew 14.

This sign is famous for its comedy value, I saw this is a park in a far up north part of Israel.  Some of my friends said they had seen this in national parks in other parts of the country.

The middle symbol looks like its saying ‘No walking on water’!

Parts 1 2 3 – more soon…

Dead Sea Odyssey 422 metres below sea level – 2: The lowest camp site on earth…

( 1 )( 2 )( 3 )( 4 ) – more soon….

In my characteristically quirky random way of doing things, I didn’t mention what we did before going to Masada.

Marcel, Magnus and myself stocked up with food and supplies at a Talpiyot supermarket for camping expedition in Marcel’s work’s Fiat Doblo van.

The camp site we stayed at was pretty good in terms of location.   The toilets were nasty to say the least, the camp site itself was free but the toilets required some coins put into a turnstile gate, but this was not working, probably as no one was taking care of any cleaning or maintenance.

When choosing a place to put our tent, some of the other people were a bit noisy, there were several cars playing Arab music rather loud, we had to get to sleep early as we planned to get up at 3am (!) to walk up Masada to see the sun rise over the Dead Sea.

So we pitched the tent closeish to the beach.  This just required a scrape around of any big stones to get the ground as flat as possible for sleeping on.

The tent is borrowed of Marcel’s Swiss work colleague, it took us three attempts to put it up as its quite unusual in design and took several goes at trying to work out if the sticks go on the inside or outside…

Another problem we hit was the ground was too hard to get the pegs in.  After bashing them with a big rock and bending them in the process, a better idea was just to tie the guy ropes to some bottles of water.  It was quite windy, so keeping the tent upright was best achieved with at least two of us in the tent at once. 🙂

Something hit me when it got dark…  This is the lowest place on earth, this is the lowest camp site on earth, AND, our tent is lower than everyone else’s.   Therefore we spent the night in the lowest tent in THE WHOLE WORLD!!!!  YEAH!!!!

( 1 )( 2 )( 3 )( 4 ) – more soon….

Dead Sea Odyssey 422 metres below sea level – 1: The snake trail at Massada

( 1 )( 2 )( 3 )( 4 ) – more soon….

My friend Magnus from Sweden who I work with and Marcel from the Netherlands who works for another Christian organisation in Jerusalem decided to spend a weekend on a trip, as Magnus was close to the end of his volunteer time in Israel.

Various different ideas were discussed on a biblical place to go, maybe Jericho (although didn’t manage to fully research safety and security in this place) or more of the Galilee. In the end we decided to check out the Dead Sea. I have been there twice before but not recently, but where as before I went up in a cable car, this time this would be a gruelling climb up the ‘snake trail’ at 3am, a zigzag path that goes right up to the top of the Masada fortress where a Jewish community once lived before tragically committing suicide after being hopelessly surrounded by the Roman army.  More information on Masada here.

After the shock of getting up at 3am to get there to see the sun rise and not have the intense midday heat when hiking up the path, this was definitely worth it I think 🙂

( 1 )( 2 )( 3 )( 4 ) – more soon….

Galilee road trip part 2 : setting up camp

Parts 1 2 3 – more soon…

Sometimes known as Lake Tiberias, Lake Kinneret, but its probably best known to most people as the Sea of Galilee.

After some driving around and exploring on foot on some picnic sites over looking the lake, we eventually settled on this one.

This would be wonderful enough if this was just a regular national park, but – this is Jesus’s backyard, a lake that was the place for many miracles, feeding the 5,000, turning water into wine, putting the demon from a man into the herd of swine (who fell to their deaths) finding many fish in the lake when the fisherman’s earlier efforts in the day yielded nothing.

The place we pitched on a picnic site was nothing short of spectacular.  The lake is about 13 by 8 miles long.

I wasn’t able to get join the six pictures together to get a full impression of the lake, but I think this one is ok:


top: As the ground is very hard and difficult to get pegs in without a hammer, I opted to mix bodging and camping and tie my tent ropes to this tree which had branches in the right place. lower: the Lance boys are well used to making a good fire.

That night I got to learn the phrase ‘glamping‘ ie: glamorous camping, a word to induce general banter, amusement and teasing of other members of the party who were less used to proper camping and would take frivolous luxuries such as iPhones, posh wine glasses and other things more suited to home. ‘you glamper, you!’

Parts 1 2 3 – more soon…

Road trip to the Galilee

Parts 1 2 3 – more soon…

Last weekend I went on a road trip, 10 of us in two cars up to the north of the country towards the Golans and the Galilee with me doing some of the driving, I picked up the rental car, a Kia Magentis a fairly dull Korean car which did the job fine, it had plenty of space and was reasonably pleasant to drive.  Seems that Israelis mostly favour automatics I am not sure why it maybe to do with the lot of Americans that are here, or possibly due to the roads are steep and hilly, and as the speed of your driving has to change very frequently, it becomes a lot of work to constantly switch between second and third gear often as I have found as I often use to drive around Hindhead and Surrey way back in the UK when I often drive through the twisty roads  in a forest in mostly darkness to go and have a few beers and a curry with my good friend John P who is there.

Anyway the trip required a large cooler box for perishable food, a ton of nuts and dried fruit, lots of firewood as well as 5 tents and sleeping bags for everyone as well as the pots and pans.

The drive up there, although was challenging needing to be assertive enough to squeeze in competing traffic, not in a aggressive or selfish way, but part of the hectic patterns of driving which is common here.  Cars here are often old and beat up and deaths in road accidents are twice what they are in UK and the US, not hard to imagine when I often see other drivers impatiently overtaking on some completely blind bends and hills.  Although driving standards are bad here so is Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt, so it seems to be a Mediterranean thing.  I found it not that hard to drive on the other side of the road but an auto box takes a little bit of getting used to.   Unlike modern European cars which have a stereo integral into the dash which is not easily removable, this car has a generic type stereo fitted, this meant it had tiny buttons, no steering column controls, and produced lots of scrolling messages about how many channels and watts it has which I find quite irritating.  There is a small numeric keyboard glued onto the dash (all cars in Israel have these, it’s a mandatory requirement by the insurance companies I believe)  and requires a four digit code to enable the engine to start, but the Kia I had although new doesn’t like starting first time, and needed the ignition off after a first attempt to get going.  This car is also a bit dated in styling as I think it’s a rehash of an older Hyundai model.

I think it took me two hours to get to Tiberias, this city named after a Roman leader is the main city in the Galilee region looks out towards the east side of lake and depends on tourism from foreign Christians for its economy.   When I came here before this town looked a bit shabby with the concrete hotels looking a bit reminiscent of a communist era, today these still are a bit of an eye sore but the place looks much smarter now.

Oddly enough it started to rain (remember rain is a rarity here) whilst driving through Tiberias although there is a great need for water as the Galilee (and the Dead Seas as well)  are desperately short, and where as the water is much welcomed I was surprised to see there were no drains or obvious gutter system so the water has no where to go, so the road had lots of surface water.   Hmm, me thinks a good engineer is needed to design a system to channel this to where it’s needed I reckon.

Next camping overlooking the lake…

Parts 1 2 3 – more soon…

Camping in the Golans

Just two weeks ago, a camping and hiking expedition was announced at my church in Jerusalem, and I naturally lept at the chance to visit the Golan Heights.  Previously I got to visit a different part of the Golans about six years with my father and his US friends, close to Mount Herman which serves as the little known ski result which operates the few right times of the year, there also military outposts as well as probably the most isolated coffee shop in the world which is atop of a steep hill with rusting artistic dinosaurs made of out of metal scrap adorning the path up.

This more unusual corner of Israel is something of extreme beauty being part of the Jordan river, and staggered top right corner of the Jewish state close to the borders of Lebanon and Syria.   This is a hotly argued over piece of real estate as it was got after 1967 6 day and there are voiced attempts to make ‘peace’ deals from Syria.   It is a beautiful place with those in pursuit of a challenging hike up waterfalls and seeing different breeds of animals should be well satisfied here.  There are also farms nearby with a wide variety of different types of vegetables.

The first night was a chance to gather some firewood (only from some trees already cut down by someone)  then have dinner and sing some worship songs by the fire.   Sleeping was either in a tent (a limited number) or just plan outside.   I took the opportunity do something new and slept outside, it was great as the temperature in my sleeping bag was just about right.   There were a few strange noises like groaning from the woods.  I was told that this could be from some Coyotes who live around this neck of the country, I also heard some Woodpeckers.  (there are some near my flat I can hear too)

Only I neglected to bring necessary equipment as this wasn’t your typical church walk out.   Swimming gear was necessary as bits of the trip are impassable because of a waterfall and river with no obvious alternative routes around.

For people who know me well, I don’t swim.  At all.  A combination of a fear of drowning as a small child, not being able to assume the means to breathe inside water and having the most unpleasant swimming teacher at school made me dread swimming. Some people have kindly offered to teach me, but this has not been successful so far.

The brilliant plan hatched by the leadership of King of Kings young people’s group, the Hilsden brothers (the Canadian-Israeli chaps from the church worship team, three of them) Jeremy our Aussie ex-lifeguard and Nico from Germany was to put our belongings in bin bags to keep the dry, the experienced swimmers simply dived off the waterfall and waited on the other side of the river for the rest of us not quite so confident with water antics.  That meant climbing down a 20 metre steel ladder with bin bags of peoples belongings (and a dog!)

So the next plan was then to ferry people and bags and a dog on an inflatable mattress about 10 metres to the other side, I learned the trick was by Jeremy was to sit astride this thing as if it was a horse, after this it was quite simple, once we were on the other side part two was to then go across some stepping stones over the river with all our gear back to the path.   To do this I went across and found with careful observation some of the stones that were wider apart have some hidden stones in between, after testing this by means of a sort of scout party of a few of us in front, we could go back in direct the rest of the people where to put your feet.   For some reason this turned out to be a very funny and peculiar experience, you see the small (1-3″ long) fishes that were active in the water like to come up and nibble your feet and it tickles!   Found out later they quite like pita bread so, bit of our sandwiches were tossed into the water only to make them a couple of dozen of them frantic fight over the bits.   But they don’t seem to be interested in banana peel though.

Some differences here between Jerusalem and its surroundings, and places like the Dead Sea or the Negev desert was the presence of these strange porous rocks, they have lot of different size holes in.   Might be because there was a volcano by Mount Herman not so far away.

The varied wildlife and the spectacular views were a real treat though.  Got to see groups of different coloured neon Dragonflies, butterflies, unusual birds, an unfortunate torn up corpse of a goat or ibex probably a meal for the packs of Coyotes that I heard the day before that were around.

Got to know plenty of new people at this brief but enjoyable two day event.   I am really happy that I have seen so many different Christians (from all five continents) here exploring and seeking adventure in God’s land.